• Once More: The Case for a (Mindful) Reading (Ironic) of Henry V

    Mark Alcamo (see profile)
    Performance Studies
    English drama--Early modern and Elizabethan, Satire, Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616
    Item Type:
    Elizabethan drama, irony, Literary criticism, Shakespeare, War Studies, War literature
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    Henry V has one of the most divisive critical histories in the Shakespeare canon. For the first two hundred years after being published, it was seen as a patriotic celebration of the heroic warrior King Henry V and his victory at Agincourt. But in 1817 William Hazlitt made remarks critical of the King and several subsequent commentators interested in character analysis followed suit. In 1919 Gerald Gould made an astonishing claim that Shakespeare was actually being ironic in the play, that it is ‘a satire on monarchical government, on imperialism, on the baser kinds of ‘patriotism’, and on war.’ From that point on, many commentators have felt it necessary to approach the play relative to the antipodal views Gould had essentially initiated: in Henry V, is it Shakespeare’s intent to present King Henry V as an exemplar, a mirror for other monarchs to emulate, and to glorify his incredibly improbable victory at Agincourt, or was Shakespeare being less than upfront with his motivation to actually show an (ironic) ‘reversed’ reflection of this magisterial ideal. Many readings of the play in the past fifty years have focused on some form of reconciliation of these two views, but this article contends the poetic imagery and a correctly oriented manner of interrogating the text reveal a largely under appreciated masterpiece, and that beyond a reasonable doubt: the play is ironic.
    This essay is an introduction to the author's book, "A Genius Hoax: Shakespeare’s Trojan Horse War Play." The book is a companion guide to the irony (and the anarchy) of Shakespeare's Henry V that reviews much of the ironic commentary on the play but focuses on new findings that uncover a covert subversive play realized in the reading/study of it, vice the staging of it.
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    6 years ago
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